Friday, November 18, 2016

Top 10 Sustainable Things To Do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world is also known as one of the greenest or sustainable city! There are plenty of sustainable, green experiences or Eco-friendly things to do in Reykjavik. Here are my top 10 sustainable things to do in Reykjavik starting with most sustainable experience first. Most of my sustainable things to do in Reykjavik are also free or cheap, saving earth doesn't cost you bank!

1. Whale Watching from Old Harbour

Iceland waters is home to 20 types of whales which include Minke, Blue, Orca whales and endangered Fin, Humpback and Sperm whales. So Iceland is great place to watch whales in wild. But unfortunately there is whaling taking place in Iceland, mainly because of demand from tourist. Icelanders don't eat whale meat much and whaling isn't even profitable any more. So as a tourist it's our duty not to eat whale meat and promote whaling. Plus seeing whale alive in wild is far better experience than having it on your dinner plate!

I went on whale watching tour with Reykjavik Sailors. They are a smaller whale watching tour operator so if you don't like crowd you will surely like their tour. The transportation to and from your accommodation is provided by them. I am not into sailing so it was not very easy for me to avoid sea-sickness after we left land far behind and went in North Atlantic ocean. But their friendly staff helped me and all others constantly with sea-sickness pills, hot chocolate and what not. But I still managed to spot Minke Whales 3 times and but oh boy I realized whale watching is not an easy thing. Our eyes are not really trained to spot whales which surfaces above sea only for few seconds among waves. So if you are able to spot and see properly a whale then I must say you are lucky. Reykjavik Sailors at the end of tour offered us all another tour, specially if we couldn't spot any whales. From bigger boats, you can surely get advantage of height. But overall my experience with Reykjavik sailors was quiet interesting and I got to learn many things.

Whale watching in Iceland is not to be missed experience firstly because these whales are present year round off the coast of Iceland and remember there isn't much wildlife in this country as this island was never connected to any continent so Iceland's wildlife lives in ocean around it.

2. Free walking tour

Fascinating colors of Reykjavik
This is a great introductory guided tour of Reykjavik starts every day at 12pm from the small green clock tower in Lækjartorg square. Our guide Eyvindur Karlsson had a great sense of humor and fantastic story telling skills. He not only told us history and significance of structures and places but also mentioned all witty and quirky things about city as we walked. It's a free tour but it is advisable to tip according to your wish at the end of the tour. The guides can also give you some information and suggest you with few things to do. I would say this is not to be missed tour in Reykjavik check their website here.

3. Swim with locals

Thermal Pool at Laugardalslaug
Blue lagoons is one of the most popular place to visit in Iceland. But guess what, I didn't visit it. Firstly I didn't get booking as per my convenience so it's on my list for next trip to Iceland. But I didn't miss thermal pools experience in my trip. You can't do that else they don't let you leave country at Keflavik airport! Jokes apart you can not really skip this natural wonder which Iceland is blessed with abundantly. 

So instead of touristy blue lagoons I preferred swimming with locals at Laugardalslaug, which is also in city of Reykjavik. You don't have to book the tour or arrange transport to go there. I was staying not far from it so I walked to it. I could even explore the back of house of these thermal pools to see how they manage this wonder, geothermal energy. I also been to Fontana spa on golden circle route, which is less touristy, more relaxing experience with attraction of steam rooms directly on hot springs. Read here my experience of thermal pools.

If you want to swim in hot springs for free then you need to try Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach, closer to Perlan.

4. Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center is believed to be the most Eco-friendly conference center in the world. The building was designed to use mostly natural light through its glass facade, which covers three of the four sides of the building and results in significant reduction in power consumption. All those who were chosen to operate within Harpa have sustainability as one of their main goals. Both restaurants and catering services use mainly local produce and follow strict recycling standards. Harpa is connected to the Icelandic power grid, which has one of the highest uptime in the world. The water used in Harpa comes from water reserves located on the outskirts of Reykjavík. The water is of the highest quality and no treatment is required before it is distributed to consumers. The facade is made of glass, resulting in reduction in lighting cost. All waste in Harpa is sorted and all recyclable waste is recycled. All detergents used in Harpa have the Swan label, a well-known Eco-labeling used in the Nordic countries.

5. Hallgrímskirkja Church

Named after Iceland's most sacred and beloved poet, Hallgrimskirkja is most striking architecture in Reykjavik. Hallgrímskirkja Church was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, who also designed several other important buildings in Reykjavik, one of which I liked was National theater and University of Iceland. Guðjón was strongly influenced by Scandinavian Modernism but his designs also drew inspiration from Iceland's natural landscape and geology. I found this fact very interesting, how many architectures actually are nature inspired or depict local natural landscape? You can see those actual basalt columns now fixed in middle of road in front of National Theater.
Basalt Columns on Street in front of National Theater
The church looks like cliffs of basalt column, which are formed in Nature when a thick lava flow cools slowly into a polygonal joint pattern. Some also think that the church tower represents the natural geysers found in Iceland.

You can take the lift up to reach top of the tower at nominal charges and I must say, don't miss the chance to see Reykjavik's beautiful colorful houses from there. It offers the best view of the city!

6. Solfar, Sun voyager

This is a stainless steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. As part of Scandinavian art project, 'Experimental Environment' he made drawings of this sculpture. Sun Voyager is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.

Every city has a famous sculpture and Reykjavik has Solfar. People love to see mid-night sun from this point. The sun rays reflect on this stainless steel structure giving it feeling of sparkle.  This is located on coast side near Harpa so it is worth taking walk on the coastal street and stop here for photos. If you are lucky like me then you can even see such beautiful rainbow on the background!

7. Geothermal steam escape

Bore hole spotted in Reykjavik
Reykjavik got it's name 'smokey bay' when the first explorer reached this place and misunderstood geothermal steam as smoke. Though you won't find the mention of this particular thing in any Iceland guidebook, I would say you should not miss spotting geothermal bore holes or vents pipes, which are constant reminders throughout the city about the natural asset this city and country is blessed with. Nearly all energy consumed in Icelandic households and businesses comes from clean renewable hydroelectric and geothermal energy sources. Read all about geothermal energy of Iceland and where to find these bore holes in Reykjavik here.

8. Perlan

Perlan is situated on top of a small hill, many tourists go there to get bird's eye view of the city for free. There is an observation deck with 360 degrees panoramic view on top of 6 metal tanks, which store warm water from geothermal source. There is cafe inside too. Read some interesting things about about Perlan here.
Green patch around Perlan
The forest around Perlan is important green patch of the city, where you can find walkways and cycle path. As Iceland is mostly covered with lava field, you can't find much of forest or even taller trees here. So when I visited Perlan and saw this forest around it, I couldn't resist exploring it and my simple walk turned into little bit of thrill (watch this video below). I lost sight of city for few minutes but was delighted to find my way out. It was my first solo trip, but I got a glimpse of what courage those regular solo travelers need, when they go out in wild on their own. Long way to go for me, I am sure!

9. Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Northern Lights
This was my most favorite thing or rather real reason of my trip. I took a northern lights tour with Time Tour and was lucky to see those dancing colors in night sky even when it was overcast. Read my experience here. But did you know you can see Northern Lights even from Reykjavik? specially from the areas where there is less light pollution like Grotta light house, only the aurora activity needs to be strong enough. Just the week after my trip, the KP index was so high that city of Reykjavik shut off all street lights and everyone could see startling aurora display!

10. Buy Local

Local free-range organic eggs bought from supermarket for my breakfast
One of the important sustainable thing to do on travel is buy local. In Iceland you can't find any international fast food franchise, which is great health wise. Some people complain that food is very costly here, but if you know what local produce they have, you can just buy it from any supermarket, cook yourself and have healthy food without breaking bank! Thanks to their green house farms, Icelanders are growing many fruits and vegetables, even bananas. You can read more about these green house farms here.

Laugavegur street is famous shopping street in Reykjavik, find out here what sustainable gifts and souvenirs you can buy here. Remember to carry your reusable bags for shopping.

From my experience Reykjavik is a walk-able city so don't rent a car if you want to do site-seeing in Reykjavik, just walk and reduce your carbon footprint! Plus you never know what interesting things you will find when you are walking.

Hope you like my top 10 sustainable things to do in Reykjavik and find it useful if you are planning your trip, would love your comments! Let me know your experience if you have been to Reykjavik...

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